"It's a jaw-dropping place, with colourful villages clinging to a steep green coast above the crystal-clear Ligurian Sea, but that's not what made it so special."
I love new places, I really do. Natural landscapes, urban delights, it doesn't matter – I love it all. However, when I manage to get the money and time together to travel, I often find myself heading back to places I've already been. Why, when I would love to see a bit more of Asia, drive through the Canadian Rockies or sun myself in Greece, are they still on my list – despite having visited various other places twice, thrice or too many times to count?
Well, the destinations within New Zealand are perhaps a matter of convenience and frugality. The others, however, are all a result of one thing: people. As much as I adore mountains, oceans, rivers, quaint towns, exciting cities, new restaurants, iconic sights and hidden corners (especially restaurants), it's friends and family in far-flung corners of the globe that really entice me onto the long-haul flights.
Granted, some of them I wouldn't have met had I not struck out on my own into a new place: My dear friend Melanie I met during a solo working holiday in a tiny French beach town, and I have now visited her twice in Lyon, been taken in by her family and discovered places and cuisine I never would have seen otherwise. The last time I went, we were able to introduce our partners to each other and see them hit it off despite a significant language barrier.
One of my most cherished friendships is with Erika, an Italian brunette bombshell who is not only the most beautiful person I've ever laid eyes on but one of the nicest. Our original connection was when she came to New Zealand for six months to stay with a mutual friend. Since then, she has been back once, and I have been to see her twice, and have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of her family and friends in Formigine, Italy. I have a whole community there and a second home. I have been taught by her grandmother how to make tortelloni, have been wined and dined at a range of local wineries (she's a sommelier), learnt the art of the 5 pm spritz cocktail like a real Modena native, and my husband has been behind the wheel of a Ferrari thanks to her sweet-talking.
One of my favourite photos and memories is this one, of Erika, her fiancé, myself and Daniel on a short road trip to the beautiful Cinque Terre region. It's a jaw-dropping place, with colourful villages clinging to a steep green coast above the crystal-clear Ligurian Sea, but that's not what made it so special. It was the late-night chats, drinking wine and overlooking the hills of La Spezia. It was casual dinner at a “Sagra di Frutti di Mare”, a small local seafood festival we never would have known about had we been on our own. It was a road trip spent catching up on life at opposite sides of the earth.
There have been many more faces which form the most significant travel memories. I showed up with only a brief email warning on the doorstep of a distant cousin in Bern, and he took me in for a week of sightseeing in beautiful Switzerland – including a weekend getaway to his mother's place in the country. We had a raucous dinner supplemented with plenty of wine, and when I closed my eyes, I could have sworn it was my grandmother's voice telling stories. There were more distant relatives in Sheffield: keen trampers (despite being in their 70s) who took me to explore the gorgeous Peak District by foot. In Scotland, we parked our campervan in the driveway of my uncle's parents-in-law and visited the charming town of Aberfeldy. Visits to London meant not only spending as much time as possible in the foodie wonderland that is Borough Market but catching up with the many expat Kiwis who reside there. Across the Atlantic, we stayed in the Manhattan apartment of an old friend who took us to the most fabulous places: rooftop cocktail bars, an unforgettable Peruvian restaurant, and a smoky blues bar with a band who impressed my muso husband to no end. A road trip from there to Niagara Falls was an amazing experience – but the best part? Staying with Daniel's uncle and his partner in their cottage on Lake Erie, who welcomed in not only the two of us but our friend – and the friend he brought with him, too.
This people-focused travel brings with it another benefit. Even when we are at home, we broaden our horizons with visits from people around the globe – some we know, some who have been referred to us by mutual friends or family. We attempt to pay forward the hospitality and friendship we've received on our travels, but it's also hugely enriching. We get to experience a little bit of the wider world without even leaving our couch, just by chatting to the visitors who come and stay – and we enjoy our own country even more with people to show it off to.
Travelling can take you to some wonderful places; everybody knows that. However, it can take you to some wonderful people too, and those are the memories that last a lifetime.
Author - Sarah Glover
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